Tag Archive: afrobeat


I first heard of Nubiyan Twist when I went to see Joe Armon-Jones at The Crescent in York last November, as Joe introduced the band he got to bassist Luke Wynter he said he was in Nubiyan Twist from Leeds. My first thought was that’s a great name for a band and that there was another potentially great band coming out of Leeds. It turns out I was right this is another great band coming out of Leeds (though now based in London) and what’s more another great band that met and formed at Leeds College of Music. Leeds College of Music is a respected music education institution in the UK but if it keeps on producing the amount of quality bands it is currently it will become world famous and rank alongside the likes of Berklee in the USA.

But I got off the point for a while there It’s time to get back to talking about the music of Nubiyan Twist and their album “Jungle Run”. On the bands Facebook page under Band Interests it says “To encourage artistic and social unity between different cultures and musical styles.” This is definitely a mission statement the band achieves on this album, they combine the disparate styles of dance music (including House and Drum ‘n’ Bass), Dub, Latin, Afrobeat, Ethio-Jazz, Hip-Hop, Turntablism and Soul into a potent stew of sound. This is quite an achievement considering the band has ten members And also joined in this album by guests Nubiya Brandon (vocals), Tony Allen (drums) the inventor of the rhythms of Afrobeat and Mulatu Astatke (vibraphone) the inventor of Ethio-Jazz. I have to admit that I am very jealous of the fact that the band gets to work with two giants of African music. Another achievement is to not be subsumed by those legends on the track states they contribute to this is a band with a clear identity and incredible musical talent to boot. Bandleader Tom Excell also produced the record in the bands own studio in Oxfordshire in the UK and it’s an impressive feat to say the least to build to get all these competing instruments and talents to play nicely in a mix. This isn’t just an impressive album it’s a lot of fun to the irresistible beats make impossible for you not to dance and the catchy choruses will be in your head in no time.

I know I’m probably repeating myself here but it’s hard to overstate how incredible this album is not only as a musical achievement but something that truly represents what music can be in the 21st-century. This is an album of the Internet age don’t get me wrong there are albums made fused cells are music together before the Internet age but “Jungle Run” is something only truly achievable in a world where you can access any music at any time with the click of a button. This is a real Album of the Year contender and definitely check it out.

Let me know what you think of “Jungle Run” in the Comments.

This is Part One in a series of posts rounding up my favourite releases of the last three months and writing about them. Part Two will be published next Saturday.

Yak – “Pursuit of Momentary Happiness”

An early contender for Album of the Year comes from this English psychedelic rock band. Yak don’t just recycle the psychedelic (colour projector) wheel this is an album of well produced punchy and catchy songs that don’t out stay there welcome while still having the depth of albums with much longer cuts. Even when they do go long such as on album closer ‘This House Has No Living Room’ (which features J.Spaceman aka Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3 fame) the song is so good (not to mention a perfect album closer) that you don’t notice the track length. A highly recommended album from a band very much on the up.

 

Cotonete – “Super-vilains”

I first discovered Cotonete when they popped up on a Spotify Release Radar playlist towards the end of last year. I instantly liked this French Funk band, in fact, Spotify is pretty good at finding me groovy music from the other side of the English Channel. I suspect this goes back to all the mid 70s Serge Gainsbourg albums I’ve listened in the last four years!!! Cotonete are influenced by The JB’s (James Brown’s famous late 60’s backing band), Headhunters era Herbie Hancock and Brazilian acts such as Deodato and Banda Black Rio. It’s a potent and funky cocktail with deep basslines, punchy horns, cutting rhythm guitar and a truckload of percussion atop top notch drummer David Georgelet. This is music that is at home on the dancefloor as it would soundtrack the car chase in The French Connection or when the tempo drops it’s perfect music to chill out to. I can’t recommend this album enough and I think it will be one of those under the radar gems that gets overlooked. Don’t sleep on it!!!

 

Malibu Ken – “Malibu Ken”

Ok, so when this album was first announced late last year my initial reaction was 1) What? This is seems like a strange collaboration (Malibu Ken is a collaboration between Underground Hip-Hop MC/Producer Aesop Rock and Psychedelic Electro Hip-Hop Producer and founder of Black Moth Super Rainbow Tobacco). 2) If it works it’s could be awesome. Then I heard the first single ‘Acid King’ and watched it’s accompanying video I was excited about the potential for the album. A couple of months later the album dropped I wasn’t disappointed the album is a fantastic blend of Electro Hip-Hop and Funk tunes with Aesop Rock bring his own verbose lyrical content and amazing flow that have become his trademark since his enter to the music world with his debut album ‘Float’ in the year 2000. This album is in and out in thirty five minutes but you don’t any more music as it’s a wholly satisfying album. If this is the only Malibu Ken album that they’ll have a 100% knockout for us all to love for years to come. If Aesop and Tobacco continue to collaborate and create albums of this quality then we’ll be incredibly lucky. What are you waiting for check it out!!!

 

Cosey Fanni Tutti – “Tutti”

Cosey Fanni Tutti has been a member of not one but two great Electronic music acts first of all she was a member of Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle (1975-2012) and then her a partner Chris Carter (also a member of Throbbing Gristle) formed Chris & Cosey (1981-) and pursued a soft Electro/Techno direction. On her second solo album she digs deep into dark Electro/Techno territory but with a couple of surprises. The first surprise is that while you can dance to some of the tracks on this album a majority are slower and feature thicker heavier sounds. This wasn’t what I was expecting after hearing the title track on Spotify. However, this is no negative as Tutti expertly creates these atmospheric and engaging tracks. The other surprise was the use of a Cornet as the lead instrument of the title track Tutti has played violin in the past at early Throbbing Gristle shows but as far as I’m aware the Cornet is a new instrument to her. I definitely think the Cornet adds something to the title track both adding a more human feel and more dissonance. If you like Electronic music you’ll get a lot of “Tutti” it covers Electro/Techno and Ambient music across it’s tightly packed 38 minutes and doesn’t waste a single moment. It’s the sound of veteran showing she still has plenty to offer even in an ever changing world.

Octo Octa – “For Lovers” EP

This EP opens with ‘I Need You’ the most blissful ten minutes of music that I’ve heard so far this year. It’s envelopes you in it’s vocals moans and multi layered synths pads, it’s warm and welcoming and will always put a smile on your face on matter what else is going on or has gone on. Second track ‘Bodies Meld Together’ goes back to the 90’s for a breakbeat techno beat making for a hard beat but no less harmonious and luxurious synth layers and it’s a contrast that really works. The EP is rounded out by ‘Loops For Healing’ which a lilting melody with deep House chords and bass drum throb. Overall this is an EP that works thematically but each track stands alone as it’s own piece quite an achievement. Highly recommended.

 

Kokoroko – ‘Kokoroko’ EP

This is London 8 piece Jazz/Funk/Afrobeat band Kokoroko’s debut release though the band has been playing gigs together for a number of years now. You really should watch their set for The Boiler Room, I’ll embed it at the bottom of this post. The EP kicks off with ‘Adwa’ it’s funky Afrobeat shuffle and with bands every powerful horns taking the lead on this track. There is a break down for a guitar solo and then builds back into a sax solo before returning to the main horn refrain. The goes more down tempo and softer with their playing on the ‘Ti-de’ it’s a thoughtful track but never ponderous and the instruments have equal billing. There are even some nice female vocal harmonies towards the end of the track. ‘Uman’ is up next starting off a little slow but when the drums and bass kick in were back in Afrobeat territory again the horns the real leaders though this time they play sharp staccato lines. The EP ends with ‘Abusey Junction’ which originally appeared on the ‘We Out Here’ (2018) compilation that bought showcased the burgeoning and diverse current Jazz scene in London. The track is down tempo and focus more on the guitar, percussion, bass and electric piano compared with a lot of Kokoroko’s music to date, it’s an excellent track on a great EP. I ‘d really like to see Kokoroko live as I missed my chance last year and I can’t wait to hear what they deliver on their debut album, they are a band that has already shown they can be fantastic and yet still show so much promise.

 

Let me know what you think of these releases and about your favourites in the Comments below.

 

 

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A Man Alive’ is the fourth album from Thao Nguyen with her project The Get Down Stay Down (she also records as half of Thao & Mirah) and is one of the most personal to date. A large amount the lyrics deal with absence specifcally her father’s absence. These lyrics are a stark contrast to the albums thrashy party music. There is a bittersweet sense throughout the album that binds it together and rewards the listener with repeated listens as their understanding deepens and the layers are peeled away.

Merrill Garbus (aka Tune-yards) is on board as producer and contributes a lot instrumentally and back with backing vocals throughout the album. There is a lot of similarities between Thao’s vocal delivery and sonic and stylistic choices when compared to Tune-yards back catalogue. The use of lo-fi and distorted fuzzy production and funky, tribal rhythms that have a hint of Afro be about them I just two similarities. However, these similarities don’t spoil a brilliant album and is like a more direct version of Tune-yards “Nikki Nack” that sometimes suffered from overstuffing every song with elements and thus could be a very overwhelming experience. Another useful reference point is that of Deerhoof who combine serrated indie/post-punk guitars with Afro beat rhythms and poppy vocal melodies and have a similarly lo-fi aesthetic.

The album opens with ‘Astonished Man’ with a down tempo beat and vocals opening the track, then heavy buzzing synth bass joins in and push the track forward. In the chorus there’s a cool hook played by what sounds like a badly tuned guitar. Everything is very raw and lo-fi in a good way and reminds me of Deerhoof. Though Thao can create a more complex melody. Continuing in a similar vein is ‘Departure’ with its opening minimal sound set just a drum machine some percussion and vocals but then we get stabs of guitar and a deep thick synth bass joining in. At points in the chorus vocals to become a little grating and recall that of Garbus’ wI personally I don’t have a problem with Garbus’ vocals but I understand how they can annoy some people. ‘Departure’ is also the track where the lyrical theme begins With the shouted line “Half of all my blood in vain,” standing out. ‘Guts’ with its down tempo sparse beats and organ the only things accompanying the vocals, continues the lyrical theme with Thao stridently declaring “I’ve got the guts/ I don’t need my blood.”.

Next up is ‘Fool forever’ which opens with a tightly wound guitar playing across fast skittering drums while the vocal moves steadily over the top. This then breaks down temporarily before the riff returns to be joined by another riff played on very distorted organ, the jittery feel of the track is amplified by these elements combining. The Ballard-like ‘Millionaire’ Recalls ‘Maps’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Thao playing the part of Karen O. That this time the word is not directed at a lover but her father, “Oh daddy, I broke in a million pieces/ That makes you a millionaire.” The song opens with a sparse guitar melody and held organ delayed chords backing an almost bare Thao. A bass drum keeps time far in the background. Around 20 seconds in with the guitar and organ making a musical change to play soaraway chords for Thao to sing a long reverberant melody over. This structure is repeated throughout.

‘Meticulous bird’ puts us back on the upbeat tip with driving drums kick in the track off. Screeching synths play, counter point to the vocals weaving in in and out of the verse and chorus. The track is little difficult to listen to at first but once you get used to it actually works very well. It also another example of contrasts of sweet and serrated views on this album.The album closes as it began with a down tempo track and also brings back the main lyrical theme on The album closes as it began with a down tempo track and also brings back the main lyrical theme on ‘Endless Love’ where Thao sings a simple melody (sample lyrics include “I’ve got an endless love/ no one can starve,” and the chorus'”I don’t want it/ I don’t want it/ Carve it on out of me.”) over a sparse bass line and beat its Garbus on backing vocals again. The track provides very mellow end to the album though this is offset by nasty fuzzy guitar solo wind its wonky way through the middle of the track.

Let me know what you think of ‘A Man Alive’ in the comments or via Twitter.

Mulatu Cover

I first came across Mulatu Astatke’s music after buying “Inspiration Information” (2009) a collborative album made with London’s funk/jazz/psychdelica band The Heliocentrics. The album hasn’t been off my mp3 player since and I’ve explored his impressive back catalogue of Ethio Jazz (the genre he pionneered in the late 60’s that combines tradtional Ethiopia modes and rhythms with those of Western jazz) albums. Four years later he returns with an album that gets closer to his aim of a perfect hybrid of Ethiopian music and jazz. The album features a number of tradtional that have been modified by Astatke so that they can play the 12 tone Western scales used in jazz.

The album opens with ‘Azmari’ the whole of Astake’s band in full swing, playing an Afro-funk/Latin jazz rhythm, brass stabs, upright bass underpins the patter of percussion and drums shift under everything. A krar (six-string lyre) flys in playing a counterpoint melody to the brass. There’s a great tense battle between the instruments around 2 minutes 40 seconds in, then the track breaksdown to upright bass twang, masinko (single-bowed lute) scraping and a vibraphone twinkling high above. The intros drums, percussion and melodies dive back in soon after. Next up is ‘Gamo’ a fast moving krar melody, upright bass line, clip-klopping percussion and African vocal chants open the track. Then the brass moves in and out with purpose. The track feels both Latin and African all at once (a trademark of Mulatu’s sound), it’s light yet not without substance. There’s a nice krar solo and low synth drones come in for the final minute or so, the interweaving male and female vocals are great too!!

‘Gambella’ starts with three sparse melodies playing out (vibes, piano & krar) over tumbling toms and waves of cymbals, this creates a forboding atmosphere but with shafts of light courtesy of the cymbals, vibes and high piano notes. The full beat, bass line and acoustic guitar melody kick in at 1 minute 30 seconds in before the horns strut in and blares out over the top. There’s great attitude in the male vocals, which are supported by the female backing vocals and they remind of how the vocals are used on Talking Heads “Remain In Light”. It’s followed by ‘Gumuz’ which begins with chanted male vocals and distant female vocal chants before phased guitar, double bass and a shuffling Latin rhythm slink in. An acoustic guitar plays a rhythm that gives the whole track forward momentum. There’s some nice electric piano chords that introduce themselves during a breakdown around 2 minutes 30 seconds and add warmth throughout the rest of the track. It’s the most modern of all the tracks I’ve hear from Astatke and he just about pulls it off, though some of the sounds are a little too smooth and polished and thus come off as a bit cheesy.

The album finishes with two great but contrasting tracks in ‘Motherland Abay’ and ‘Surma’. The former opens with sparse reverberate piano chords, swiftly followed a picked krar melody, chimes and the bowing of the masinko. Mulatu’s vibraphone twinkles in and out of the mix. This mix of instruments creates a desolate atmosphere. A washint (bamboo flute) enters and creates a haunting melody that swoops down on the listener. The masinko drives in low in the 4th minute before a light drum beat and stringed melody and trumpet take over the vibraphone playing sparsely above and around them. The latter combines a drum roll that brings in the horns, percussion and bass line. The track breaks down for the verse, that features a tightly coiled guitar riff (muted), an acoustic guitar melody, shuffling drums and the horns all backing guest Fatoumata Diawara lead vocals. The track feels a lot more like an Afrobeat or High Life track than the Ethio-Jazz of Mulatu’s usual tracks. It’s sound is sparser and more poppy than the rest of the album.

In “Sketches of Ethiopia” Astatke has created an album that comes close to matching both solo work from the late 60’s and early 70’s and the “Inspiration Information” album that are regarded as his best work. A little more time with the album will no doubt confirm if it equals these past achievements and reveal yet more detail of this meticulous yet effortless artist. Highly recommed to existing Astatke fans and fans of East African music.   

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Talking Heads – “Remain In Light” (Sire Records, 1980)

This month’s selection for Classics Critiqued has long been a personal favourite since my teenage years. It’s also an album that regular features in critics’ Greatest Albums lists, even making it to No.2 on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the ‘80s. That album is the avant funk masterpiece that is “Remain In Light” by Talking Heads. This seminal album was the band’s fourth and the third produced by English pop and rock music auteur Brian Eno. It was the band’s creative high water mark and signalled the end of their initial experimental phase before they became a poppier proposition for the remaining 12 years of their career.

Prior to the band getting together to create “Remain In Light”, David Byrne (vocals/lyrics/guitar) and Brian Eno  retreated to Los Angeles to create what would become their first collaborative album “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” (1981). Although the concept behind “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” continued to evolve during its creation the idea of creating a “fake ethnic record” seemed to run through the core of the result and provided inspiration for “Remain In Light”. Eno envisioned “Remain In Light” as creating a psychedelic vision of Africa. As Simon Reynolds observed in his book “Rip It Up and Start Again”: “Musically, “Bush of Ghosts” took the ideas of ‘Drugs’ and ‘I, Zimbra’ to the next level. Rampant texturology: Eno and Byrne drastically extended the sonic range of conventional instruments through processing and effects. And the technique of interlocking: each instrument played very simple parts, which they then meshed into complex, ever-shifting webs of texture rhythm”. Add all this together with Talking Heads own brand of New Wave rock music and you create an innovative album that almost completely blurs the lines between funk, Afro beat, traditional African music and American art rock.

In July 1980 Talking Heads reconvened with Eno at the Bahamas Compass Point recording studio, where Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums) had been holidaying together (they had become a couple shortly after Weymouth joined Talking Heads in 1975) to lay down the backing tracks for what would become “Remain In Light”. In a change from their usual writing/recording routine the band decided to jam ideas that were simultaneously recorded to then be edited, overdubbed and arranged in the second phase of recording, a highly unorthodox approach for a rock band in 1980. The band had decided on this course of action in order to move away from the conventional idea of lead singer and backing band and to craft songs in a more democratic way rather than relying solely on Byrne to write songs. This decision came about when Weymouth and Frantz had discussed leaving the band before all the members took a much needed break earlier in the year. After these recordings were made the band returned to New York’s Sigma Sound studio with the backing tracks more or less completed. Work continued at the New York studio where earlier in the year Jerry Harrison (guitar/keyboards) had produced an album for singer Nona Hendryx. She later provided backing vocals to “Remain In Light” that would enrich the rhythmic backing tracks. At this point the album entered phase two with Byrne struggling to write lyrics and vocal melodies to the backing track which featured only one or two chords. Meanwhile Eno, Harrison and engineer Dave Jerden edited the recordings into loops and overdubbed them with additional keyboard and guitar parts. Weymouth and Frantz rarely attended these session as one, their rhythm parts were already recorded and two, they felt pushed out by the close friendship of Eno and Byrne. Weymouth was particularly angry, describing their friendship as, “…they were dressing like one another…like two fourteen-year-old boys making an impression on each other”.

Eno, Byrne and Harrison all attended a Adrian Belew gig at the New York Plaza and were so blown away by his abstract guitar style that Eno asked if he could come down to Sigma Sound to contribute parts to the album (the pair had previously met when Belew played on David Bowie’s “Lodger” (1979). Belew turned up the next morning with his Roland GR30 guitar synth creating “the metallic distortions and wild spidery notes” heard on ‘The Great Curve’. This new addition “made the music radiate anew and provided an oddly companionable contrast” to the polyrhythmic African funk of the backing tracks. Jon Hassell, another one of Eno’s previous collaborators, played and arranged the stunning gauzy horns on ‘Houses In Motion’.

Their new approach to the writing and arranging of the music caused a problem for David Byrne who had to rethink his approach to writing lyrics and melodies as well as moving into new areas of subject matter. In an interview with Simon Reynolds, Byrne recalls “realizing that this music that was kind of groove-based implied a whole different social and psychological thing – much more ecstatic and trance-like. I realized I couldn’t think about the same things or at least not in the same way, if I was going to be true to what the music felt like. After “Fear of Music”, where I’d done a bit of recording the music first and putting words it later, I took a leap and said ‘Ok, I won’t go in with any lyrics at all.’ That meant I had to write words to fit the music. If I was in a neurotic or tense state of mind, it might not be suitable for the music because the music might not feel like that. I had to write in response to the music.” Reynolds also observed the following change in lyric tone and content. “If “Fear of Music” was about neurosis, “Remain In Light” reached for psychic wholeness, life newly reintegrated with nature and the body.” Talking Heads no longer dealt in white angst (with the exception of album closer ‘The Overload’). Instead it reached for the ecstatic both in terms of the lyrical content and delivery which took from Byrne’s love of soul, Eno’s of gospel and the band’s new found Afro beat influences. Even Eno’s usual restrained English delivery reached unexpected levels of passion when he sang backing vocals with Nona Hendryx who bought this out in him.

Byrne included a bibliography with the album’s press kit to illustrate the lyrics African inspirations; he cited Professor John Miller Cheroff’s “African Rhythm and African Sensibility” as the main influence. The book discussed the role of music in West African culture. The lyric that really stood out was “The world moves on a woman’s hips” from ‘The Great Curve’, which was inspired by “African Art in Motion” by Professor Robert Farris Thompson, though it could just as easily have come from a Fela Kuti song. The lyrics also dealt with identity with Byrne pondering “well, how did I get here” on ‘Once In A Lifetime’ to ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ on which he declares “lost my shape, trying to act casual/can’t stop, I might end up in the hospital”. So it appears he wasn’t able to fully exorcise his angst in the lyrics, though the delivery and backing tracks delivered plenty of ecstasy.

The legacy of “Remain In Light” is an interesting one. It’s difficult to pick out any bands/artists that have been directly influenced by the album and ‘Once In A Lifetime’ is the only song from the album that’s ever been covered. The song was also sampled by many rave and hip-hop acts who loved the song’s brilliant groove and easy conversion to an instrumental loop. It’s here we find the album’s key influence, the way the songs were put together preceded sampling and loop-based dance music. It’s in the DNA of these aforementioned tracks (and some more adventurous hip-hop tracks) that we find “Remain In Light”’s true decedents. “Remain In Light” is a truly unique album that stands up to even the toughest scrutiny even today, thirty two years on.

Let me know what you think of “Remain In Light” in the comments section or via our Twitter.

Listen to “Remain In Light” here.

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